The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

February 16, 2013

We're on notice ... plan for the next meteor

(Continued)

To help get a handle on this danger, NASA coordinates the Near-Earth Object Program, which searches for and tracks asteroids and comets that could approach the earth. About 10,000 near-Earth objects have been discovered, including nearly 900 with a diameter of roughly a kilometer or larger. None is expected to hit Earth anytime soon, but many large objects are believed to remain undetected.

In 2005 Congress set a 15-year deadline for scientists to find 90 percent of the near-Earth objects greater than about 500 feet in diameter — those large enough to cause regional or global devastation. But the mandate has been chronically underfunded. The project would require several more dedicated telescopes. Last year the project received about $20 million, far less than the $50 million that the National Research Council estimated in 2010 was needed to reach the congressional goal by 2030, a decade late. Even when this goal is met, most small asteroids and comets — too small to cause global devastation but still large enough to cause damage far worse than just occurred in Russia — will remain undetected unless funding is significantly increased.

Another danger is that even if a meteor does not itself cause major damage, any resulting chaos or confusion could lead nations to overreact. In 2002, for example, a meteor exploded over the Mediterranean at a time when India and Pakistan were facing off over the disputed Kashmir region. The U.S. Space Command's deputy director for operations warned that the meteor might have been misidentified as a nuclear attack, had it come apart over South Asia.

Many countries lack the United States' sophisticated sensors that can help determine whether a large explosion is nuclear in nature. The damage that could occur if a nation were to misidentify a meteor explosion and launch a counterattack is chilling. Washington should do more to establish an international warning system that can provide credible, near-instant information to countries across the globe whenever a major explosion is detected.

Text Only
News
The Daily Marquee
Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.